Physical stores are the most effective driver of online sales, so is it wise to be closing so many?
Just as Boohoo shutters all Karen Millen and Coast stores and relaunches both exclusively online, it could be worth rethinking their strategy. We often think of physical retail going head-to-head with online. It’s one or t’other. The digital upstart appeared, grew quickly and is making physical retail, in many cases painfully, contract as we head towards a new balance of consumer behaviour.
But, before you decided to close all your stores in your retail network, there’s something you should know. Ninety per cent of all UK retail spend if influenced by a store and, according to research by CACI, across the UK, online sales are 106% higher within a store’s catchment area. Fashion, in particular, was 127% higher.
CACI provides solutions to make the best possible location planning and customer targeting decisions for brands and this UK wide survey was conducted with over 2,500 consumers across 20 different brands. They are calling it the "Halo Effect" and it describes the uplift in online sales due to the presence of physical stores.
“We know that stores facilitate showrooming and click & collect and we can quantify them as well, but what was less known until today is the uplift that stores have on what were considered ‘pure play online sales’ – or what we characterise as the ‘sit on the sofa with an iPad, get it delivered to your house or office shop’. These sales are twice as likely to take place within a store’s catchment than outside it – demonstrating the effect that physical stores have in driving online sales,” says CACI.
The catchment area is defined using drivetimes based on where 80% of customers who spent in store come from according to the survey data. The size of the catchments therefore varies by brand so, for example, John Lewis has a much larger catchment than a Boots.
“The presence of a physical store gives a customer the security of knowing that should something go wrong there is a store you can go to. In addition, seeing the store as they go to work and shopping puts the brand front of mind and builds trust with the shopper, and store led marketing in the catchment area reinforces the brand. All of these secondary effects drive online behaviours up. It is no coincidence that bar a few notable exceptions some of the biggest online brands also have national store networks: Argos, John Lewis, Next. This is also why Amazon are increasingly exploring what a network might look like,” says CACI.
Fashion, in particular, was noticeably higher at 127%, why is this? “We believe that fashion is higher because it is more of a discretionary purchase. This has two impacts – you are more likely to see it, consider it and then purchase later, at home (a subconscious showrooming) and you are also more likely to return it, particularly if you live within a store’s catchment. Therefore, being near a store triggers increased engagement,” says CACI.
For every £1 spent online outside a store’s catchment, £2.06 is spent online inside a store’s catchment. According to CACI, consumers still value a trip to the shops. Although frequency is down, average spend is up per visit and net promoter scores in shopping locations have increased by almost a third. Suggesting we’re more, rather than less, satisfied when we visit. “In this environment the role of the store can be far more nuanced. No longer a place that just shifts stuff, it is simultaneously a marketing hub, fulfilment centre, experiential destination and showroom,” says CACI.
Norfolk Natural Living's founder, Bella Middleton says: "The fact that online sales are 106% higher within a store's catchment is not a surprise. Nor should it be. It is evidence that the internet simply cannot replace the trust and community feel of visiting a physical retail store.
"At Norfolk Natural Living, we have a retail store in Holt, Norfolk, and a website selling our products internationally. Despite some incredible media coverage having grown awareness of our sustainable products internationally, we still see more orders from within the Norfolk area than any other region.
"To me, this is an opportunity for retailers to remember that the internet isn't everything. It is fast, convenient and comparatively easy to manage your business online, but people still cling onto that desire for trust and community. Even if they ultimately put their card details into a website rather than a card reader,” she says.
It appears that people also like local online. “As an online retailer based just outside of Sheffield when we have looked at our regional sales we found it really interesting the sheer volume of sales we have in counties close to home compared to further away and when our website shows us the locations our customers are from there is a spike in cities within a 35 mile radius,” says Lucy Arnold from Lucy Locket Loves, a women’s sportswear brand.
Could these kind of stats be the motivator to see pure play online retailers open physical stores? “We already are and the false distinction between on and offline will only blur further,” says CACI. "If you are a pure online retailer today, you only have 15% of the available spend in the market open to you because 85% of consumer spend touches a store. In addition, your competition online will often already have a store network and operate at a competitive advantage in marketing and brand awareness. In those circumstances why wouldn’t you go play in store?”
Is there any evidence where stores have closed and online sales have gone down? “Mothercare is the clearest one. As they embarked on a store closure program, they have seen online sales fall as well,” says CACI.
Is this information compelling enough to keep stores open is the real question? If rents and rates drop then stores will have a far brighter future and this type of online “Halo Effect” will be another reason to keep stores open or be reopened. Having the shops in the right places to maximise this catchment area theory is key and reducing overlapping stores will be the obvious step for those with a larger retail network. It’s all about finding the perfect balance and looking at physical and online working together rather than against each other.